catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 4, Num 22 :: 2005.12.02 — 2005.12.15


Dear N.

Dear N.,

A couple weeks ago you wrote:

In answer to your question: What makes me feel the most alive? Well, it depends. Most of the time it’s social intimacy. Sometimes it’s theoretical exploration and discovery… but I usually enjoy it best in the context of argument or discussion, which sort of amounts to intimacy for me. I also really, really, really enjoy two other things: late nights smoking and drinking coffee at a classic diner, and camping out in the woods near plenty of firewood and a stream full of tasty fish. But for me, I must do these things with other people just because they are modes of intimacy too. I used to feel alive when performing (singing, acting, etc)… but it’s been a long time since I’ve had the chance. And, of course, performance is also an act of intimacy.

Clearly, I can’t get enough of it.

So thanks for making me feel alive.

Can you define “social intimacy” for me? Are you content to do these activities which bring you so much pleasure with any other people, or is it certain people in particular? What is it that you like most about late nights in a diner smoking and drinking coffee? I know you are quite the extrovert; it is evident here in how you include other people in all of these things. What is it exactly that you can’t get enough of? Intimacy? Why do you suppose that is? And how do I make you feel alive?

Perhaps the answers to these questions seem totally obvious to you, I just thought that some of it was vague, and I wasn’t sure if that was on purpose or not. You see, I am trying to make it my habit now to speak openly with you, and my other close friends, to ask you the questions I normally would just keep to myself. I have had the tendency all my life to hold a lot of my thoughts and questions to myself. It hasn’t really helped me to thrive; perhaps I have been holding in the wrong sorts of things. But so far, with you, the outcomes of sharing difficult subject matter or more personal thoughts has proved to be beneficial. You once said that perhaps I find you easy to talk to because I like you, but I have thought about that a lot, and that is not it. Perhaps it’s actually because I believe that you like me. There are plenty of people I am fond of, but I am not comfortable talking openly with. You generally put me at ease with your understanding and candor (which is an odd combination, but I like how you speak your mind, even if I disagree), and this is because of who you are.

Back in high school I remember a bit of a phone conversation we had the week before the dance. I think I was telling you about what I was going to wear, and you then told me you had a zit coming in, and how you were bummed it would mess up the picture. It may sound completely silly now, but that actually grossed me out and impressed me at the same time. In my house growing up we kept talk of unpleasant things (like zits) to ourselves, so I was surprised and grossed out that you were telling me about it, in some detail I may add. But, I thought it was so cool how you weren’t embarrassed about it, just disappointed how it may mess up the picture.

You still have that same quality, of talking about taboo subjects, but in a way that is genuine, not just for shock value.


Dear V.,

About social intimacy. I think you understand it better than you think. I might describe it exactly as you said: “understanding and candor.” Between people there can be a comfortable openness. We can “explore” in discussion our thoughts and experiences?about the world and our own perspectives on and reactions to it. You get to talking about the way you feel, the other people are attentive and engaging, and they reveal their minds too, and you all learn things about yourselves and the other people. And it’s all “personal,” even if it’s NOT particularly “deep” or “private.” For the most part, it’s just a meaningful way of being casual.

Actually, I get very frustrated when I’m around people who aren’t like this. People who are closed-up and don’t even know it. They think they’re “normal.” And these are the people who have the worst reactions to me. I make them feel “very uncomfortable.” And those people make me feel less human, less real. I should have compassion on them, I guess, but typically they can’t get past their own pain and fear for it to matter. I’ve been burned by so many people like this, because sometimes they’ll lash out in some insanely vindictive plot. These people are EVERYWHERE, but I usually find out who they are after it’s too late.

So I can’t get enough of social intimacy. We have it with each other, and rather than feeling less human, our intimacy makes me feel more human, more real, more alive.

But social intimacy is not always a constant. Sometimes it feels like “chemistry.” I was just thinking about this guy I met while traveling a few summers ago. We became fast and intimate friends. We had “chemistry.” But had we lived in the same town together for years, and years, I’m sure our friendship wouldn’t be so constantly intense. For example, D. and I had a lot of social intimacy in college and things are pretty un-intimate between us now (although that might have more to do with NOT being in the same town).

Thankfully, social intimacy can also grow. Some people, or groups, don’t have it at first, and then they learn. It can be learned, I think…well, as James Dobson (?) says, "not so much taught, as it is “caught.” Although he was talking about “manners” or something.

This makes me think that I must have caught most of my faculty for social intimacy from my mother. Some people don’t like my mother, and I can understand that. She talks too much about herself and her kids and isn’t very experienced or educated about the world. I assume that some people must find her quite uninteresting, if not parochial and/or (at the very worst) self-absorbed. But at the same time, I recognize in her a great capacity for social intimacy. She’s an expert at “understanding and candor” and she thrives on it, and thankfully, there are some who thrive on her too. I don’t think social intimacy has much to do with being a good mother (unfortunately), but my mother had it and I caught it from her, I think.


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